By and large, Pete's family was big, loud, fun, warm and welcoming. But that didn't stop some of my first meetings with members of it from being odd or funny. I'm going to share a few of those experiences with you here:
One weekend Pete told me that his Aunt Irene had been wanting him to come, visit and kill some rabbits for her and asked if I'd care to come, too. I accepted. Irene lived down a fairly long dirt road/drive that dead ended on her property. An average size brick home behind a chain link fence. Irene was a widow and a diabetic that lived alone. Like so many in her family, she was warm, welcoming and loud. Ready to laugh and cut up.
She met us at the front walk way. Obviously excited and happy that Pete had put her on his agenda. As she ushered us inside and I stepped into her living room my eyes saw the largest collection of whatnots I have ever seen in my life! Every single space in the room was home to all it could hold. Fascinating! But I shuddered at the horror of having to dust each and every item.
Irene loved a hot, fast game of Yatzee. So in no time at all she had the card table set up and ready for us. We played game after game into the wee hours of the morning and had a blast doing so. She was a cut up. And Pete loved teasing her. I laughed so much that night my sides were sore for days.
At the appropriate time after dark, we paused and Pete took his headlight out and his gun and shined all around and killed for her the rabbits she had been wanting. When he was through hunting he called me out. Seems I had a job....to hold the rabbits while he skinned and cleaned them! (I was a country girl, but my Daddy never hunted or fished anymore by the time I came along. This was all new to me.) So after being a little grossed out and sustaining a few flea bites, I had been indoctrinated in the art of rabbit cleaning. For any city slickers, the flea bites were because the rabbits always have fleas, and the fleas go to searching for a new host not long after the one they are on is dead.
Irene was tickled and delighted. She could cook the fried and smothered in gravy rabbit she had been craving and had some for her freezer. We became friends and in the first few years after our marriage, I sometimes run errands or did shopping for her. Sadly, her heart disease took her from us before Bubba was born.
One evening, Pete picked me up and told me they were having a party at his brother Benny's and that was our destination. Once again, down another long dirt road/drive in Caneyhead to emerge in a clearing with a trailer house and a host of folks outside under a large oak tree.
We pulled in, in Pete's little red AMX with Pete driving and me in the passenger seat. Perhaps I just wasn't thinking, but I went ahead and opened my own car door and stepped out. Immediately to see a small framed man, shirt half tucked in and half out, a two day stubble on his face, wobbling and swaying, walking my way with his arms outstretched and hollering "Hey, there darlin', give ol' Hannon a hug!" I had no idea who "ol' Hannon" was, but I was sure of one thing....I didn't want him near me or on me. I called out, "Pete! Pete, come get this person away from me!" Everyone under the oak was laughing, and even Pete when he came to my side was chuckling at me. He held out a hand and stopped Hannon a couple of feet short of me. He told him to slow down, hold on. She's new here. She's not used to this. Hannon staggered a little and quizzically looked at Pete asking what was wrong, he just wanted a little hug and a kiss. Pete put his arm around Hannon and led him away from me, explaining further that he had to let me get to know him first.
That was my first encounter with Pete's 1st cousin, Hannon Rufus. Yes, when he drank, he became a very lovable, clumsy drunk. But I later discovered a very genuinely warm and kind man when he was sober. He was a very hardworking, skilled hand. And everyone around would come to him to get their hogs scraped. It wasn't long before I would happily give ol' Hannon a little hug if he asked. Sadly, he's no longer with us either. Bubba got to know him, but Hannah was too small when we lost him to really remember him.
For many years there was an old cafe in town called the Bluebonnet Cafe. One morning after an especially late night, were were hungry and Pete suggested the Bluebonnet for a good breakfast. He was hungry for cream gravy and biscuits.
We went in and sat down. A perky, blonde waitress came over and gave us menu's and was delighted to see Pete. She had to hug him, teased him about finally coming by to see her. He asked for his cream gravy and biscuits. Probably too late for that, she told him. But he went on about how surely for him she could find some. Wink, smile, wink. She said how for him, she'd make it herself if she had to.
I didn't say much, didn't ask anything. Didn't know what to think. Thought it best to just see exactly what went down. Our food was served and it was good. We ate and she came back and forth checking on us and cutting up with Pete. When we were about to leave, Pete pulled out the money for our meal and an extra $20 for a tip, explaining he knew she could use it.
We were on our way out, and she come up and hugged him and said, "Thank you Bubba!"
This was my first encounter with Pete's baby sister, Darlene.
One weekend, Pete said we were going to go stay with his 2nd cousins, Punk and Janie at their camp at Bush Lake. I packed for the weekend, complete with all my makeup and contact lens equipment. About halfway into the camp it was like we fell off the civilized world. No real road, just a trail/road through the woods that reeked of stagnate mud. Only someone experienced in driving in these conditions stood a chance of getting through without a 4-wheel drive. We arrived to find a large rambling camphouse that was covered in old newspaper tin sheets! You could still read the old stories and advertisements! No electricity. No running water. An old hand pump on a well outside. A number 3 washtub at the back door of the camp was the only hot bath to be had. Or in the summer you could take a bar of Ivory down to the lake. There were beds galore! Old beds in three rooms....approximately 7 or 8. And many a night in deer season or the middle of summer, every bed was full. Chickens free ranging all around the surrounding woods. A small butane icebox in the kitchen and two old buckets kept full of water with a ladle sitting on a small table beside the stove. Large flaps all around the house that could be raised in warm weather. In the cold they were down and a big old wood stove in the main room was kept stoked and hot.
Janie was short, round and pleasant. She had no problem handing you a bowl of potatoes and telling you to get them peeled and cut up, or starting a bowl of fried cornbread mixings and telling you to finish it and get it on the stove. She had a habit of dipping snuff, which was my first experience seeing a woman use any type of tobacco other than an cigarette. She loved camping and hunting. Her and Punk would play 42 at a drop of a hat, for hours on end and many came just to play with them. But her love above all loves was white perch fishing.
Now every moment when Pete was not by my side Janie was talking about Pete or feeling me out about what I thought of him, how I felt. But the next day, after a big breakfast of pancakes she and her grown and married daughter, Sis, took me out in the boat for some perch fishing. Or at least that was their cover. This was actually a two and half hour presentation on the virtues of and the possibilities that could be Pete married to a good woman. Apparently, Janie had sized me up and thought me an acceptable candidate. And since Pete stayed with them most of the time in that period, she apparently had an inside track, probably from observance of him on how Pete felt and the possibilities between us. Janie had that way of watching folks and knowing almost more about them then they did themselves.
To sum it up, this weekend was totally different than anything I had ever experienced before on many levels. But I came to love Bush Lake, Punk & Janie, and so many of our best times and warmest memories center around them and that place. Janie turned out to be one of my favorite people in Pete's family, a good friend and a joy to be around. We got up to plenty of adventures and a little mischief over the years.
The beloved old camphouse burned down one year. A new one was built in it's place, but nice as it was, it lacked the charm and fun of that old original. We lost Janie in a car wreck. Lost Punk a few years later. All is gone. But none will ever be forgotten.